Netflix is starting a debate over S.Korea's military

A Netflix series has become the center of a massive debate in South Korea, reigniting questions over its policy over mandatory military service and history of abuse scandals.

"D.P.", short for "Deserter Pursuit", follows military police assigned to capture deserters, but it also shines a light on daily life for the many conscripts that fill its ranks, including allegations of mental and physical abuse. The series shows deserters as both criminals and victims.

Since it premiered at the end of August, D.P. has been among the most watched shows in South Korea -- even top politicians are talking about it.

Ma Joon-bin served in the military from 2013 to 2014.

"There is a scene in 'D.P.' where they threw combat boots (at a soldier). I went through a lot of similar harassment. Like I got hit on my head, sometimes with a closed fist. Now that I look back, I feel like it was unfair, but back then it was so common."

Ma isn't alone. Other former conscripts have said the series brings back traumatic memories. Currently all South Korean men must serve for up to 21 months, depending on the military branch.

But others say the depictions of abuse are overblown, such as Lee Jun-Tae who served between 2017 and 2019.

"There was no harsh treatment during my time. And now they can have access to their mobile phones in the military, so they can communicate better with their families and the outside world. So, I don't think there's any harsh act these days."

The Defence Ministry says abuse and desertion among conscripts is down, largely due to a 2019 decision to allow enlisted soldiers to use cellphones in their barracks.

And earlier this year, following multiple sexual abuse scandals, a law was passed, ruling that sex abuse and violent crime in the military would be handled by civilian courts.

Last week the military announced that even before the series came out, it had planned to do away with the system of having rank-and-file soldiers track down deserters - a change that will come into effect in July 2022.

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